Meagan Taylor, the 22-year-old black trans woman who spent the past two weeks in a segregated cell at Polk County Jail in Des Moines, walked out of that facility today, according to advocates who have been calling for her release.
"I'm ecstatic to be released," Taylor told the Transgender Law Center, which is currently investigating the possibility of litigation surrounding allegations that hotel workers and police profiled the black trans woman as a sex worker. "Words cannot express the way I feel to be out. I want to thank everyone who shared my story, and let people know that I am going to seek justice for what they did profiling me as a Black transgender woman."
Indeed, LGBT and social justice advocates have rallied around the young woman's plight, seizing on her allegations that hotel staff and police inaccurately profiled Taylor and her friend as sex workers. While being held at Polk County Jail, Taylor was kept alone in a medical cell, segregated from the general population, because jail officials were unsure about where to house a transgender woman.
Read our in-depth feature, including a discussion with Taylor herself, here.
As the hashtag #FreeMeaganTaylor began trending on social media platforms Monday, organizers launched a fundraising campaign to pay Taylor's bail and surrounding fees that had been escalating after she failed to pay a fine on a five-year-old credit card fraud conviction.
The transgender pastor who helped lead that fundraising effort — which subsequently raised more than $4,400, expressed their gratitude in a statement upon the news of Taylor's release.
"My tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy when I learned that Meagan was going to be released from jail," said Pastor Megan Rohrer, who uses the gender-neutral pronouns they and them. "I want to thank the 133 people who donated funds to help us remove the financial barriers, and the Transgender Law Center who expedited the legal barriers that were keeping Meagan in jail."
Taylor, an Illinois resident, was arrested July 13 shortly after checking in to the Drury Inn in West Des Moines, Iowa, with a friend who also happens to be a transgender woman.
Taylor says her ordeal began when hotel staff began "acting really funny" around her and her friend. Soon after the pair checked in, West Des Moines Police were knocking on their hotel room door, responding to a staff call about "two males dressed as females who checked into the Drury Inn" who staff worried were involved in "possible prostitution activity."
Taylor and her friend were not actually engaged in sex work, but Taylor was nonetheless placed under arrest when police found an outstanding probation violation from Illinois for credit card fraud, according to The Des Moines Register, which first reported on Taylor's case in an op-ed by columnist Rekha Basu. Taylor explained to the paper she had served time at age 17 for the charge, but the probation violation stemmed from her not yet paying $500 in fines. That nonpayment resulted in a $20,000 warrant for Taylor's appearance at a scheduled court date later this month.
Some of the funds raised in Taylor's defense went to paying that outstanding fine, and the Transgender Law Center reports that the Illinois warrant has now been vacated.
Police also found that Taylor had checked into the hotel under a name different from her own — an act not considered a crime. Police also found spironolactone hydrochlroide — a common medication used in trans women's hormone therapy to accompany estrogen — among Taylor's belongings, despite her not having a prescription in her belongings. Taylor maintains that she does have a prescription for the medication, she just wasn't traveling with it.
Taylor was charged with "malicious prosecution" — defined as a "serious misdemeanor" for "a person who causes or attempts to cause another to be indicted or prosecuted for any public offense" — and possession of prescription drugs without a prescription. She was taken to Polk County Jail, where she was reportedly patted down by two guards: a female officer for the top half of her body and a male officer for the bottom half, she told the Register.
Jail officials explained their decisions by saying they were aware that trans women face a heightened risk of sexual assault when placed in men's cells, but that they did not feel "comfortable" placing her with women. Trans prisoners as well as immigration detainees are often held in isolation for their own "protection," despite the act being shown to cause psychological harm. Although Taylor initially told jail staffers she wanted to be housed with other female inmates, she ultimately agreed to be held in "protective custody," meaning a private medical cell without a roommate.